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Woman attacked by bear may face feeding charges

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POSTED August 24, 2014 7:32 p.m.

KINGS BEACH (AP) — A Lake Tahoe woman who was attacked by a black bear in her backyard could become the first person in the area charged with illegally feeding the wild animals.

California authorities say the woman, whose name hasn’t been released, has been feeding bears for years in her yard on the lake’s north shore at Kings Beach.

A similar problem a few miles east in Incline Village prompted the Nevada Department of Wildlife to issue a formal warning in December to another woman accused of illegally feeding several bears — three of which now are dead.

One of the bears had to be euthanized after it broke into a neighbor’s car and exhibited bold behavior making it a threat to public safety, NDOW spokesman Chris Healy said. Two of her cubs later were struck and killed by cars, which Healy said was at least an indirect result of their losing their natural fear of humans.

“The people who are doing the feeding are the ones who are killing these bears,” Healy told The Associated Press on Friday.

The Reno Gazette-Journal first reported that California game wardens were investigating the woman after the Aug. 5 attack in Kings Beach.

The woman was treated at a hospital for bite wounds to her shoulder and scratches on her leg after she reported the bear hit her from behind, said Lt. Patrick Foy of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife. Investigators said she has been feeding bears since at least 2010 and had been warned multiple times to stop.

Foy said wildlife officials were working with the Placer County district attorney’s office and will decide soon whether to cite her with a misdemeanor charge of feeding wildlife, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

“It’s under active investigation,” Foy said Friday. “When the district attorney looks at a stack of cases on his or her desk, they prioritize. An older woman who is feeding animals generally doesn’t rise to the top level of severity.”

Foy said authorities previously have cited people for feeding big game in other parts of California but he believes this would be the first case involving bears at Tahoe. He said wardens have interviewed the woman at least three times, and she had promised before to stop feeding the bears.

“With some of these people, it’s almost like an excessive compulsion — like they can’t stop themselves,” Foy said.

Nevada issued its only formal written warning in December to a woman neighbors had photographed feeding bears outside her Incline Village home. One photo showed a mother with three cubs eating from bowls. Another showed a woman’s hand extending food to the bear, her palm inches from its snout.

Healy said some activists portray bears as “benign creatures that don’t do any harm, when in fact, they are wild animals that are capable of doing harm.”

“When you are feeding them, you are hastening the day that one or more of those bears is going to be killed,” he said.

In the California case, wardens collected the woman’s clothing to gather DNA in an attempt to identify the bear responsible for the attack, Foy said.

When wardens returned to her home the night of Aug. 7, they found eight bears prowling the property and captured four. None matched the DNA and all four were returned to the wild, he said.

Ann Bryant, founder of the nonprofit Bear League, told the Gazette-Journal her organization received numerous reports that the Kings Beach woman had been hand-feeding bears.

“To lure that many bears into a residential area and make all those bears reliant on it is horrible,” she said. “It’s a crime against nature.”

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